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Virtualization – The Way Ahead for Broadcasters

Virtualization – The Way Ahead for Broadcasters

Virtualization is the doing-away of physical infrastructure in favor of software mimicking the hardware’s functions. From the viewpoint of broadcasters, however virtualization is the employment of equipment to perform a variety of tasks simultaneously or a shared piece of machinery that serves multiple studios or locations. Specialized software running on high-powered machines eliminates the need for dedicated, often-expensive equipment performing individual tasks.

Disney, one of the earliest adopters of the Cloud have set forth an ambitious plan to take their massive master broadcast facilities at New York City and Burbank, California and diffuse them globally – broadcasting from data centers around the world. They feel it critical to separate the data center from the broadcast center. Disney’s host of cable-based channels are preparing for their move to the Cloud.

The BBC has found virtualization to be the way ahead in the race against redundancy that most radio broadcasters are facing. The BBC’s Virtual Local Radio (ViLoR) project centralizes the infrastructure of four major stations at one remote, shared location. While the local stations from four major UK cities shall compile their content independently, their audio files shall be stored, streamed, mixed and processed at the central data center. As radio channels come up against budget-trimming by parent organizations, they can look towards virtual stations to keep up their operations without compromising on the scale.

Hardware heavyweights NVIDIA have devised an ingenious method of optimizing the use of their products. Known for their Graphical Processing Units (GPUs), the firm has set up gargantuan blocks of interconnected GPUs which can be remotely accessed by paying customers – albeit at a fraction of the price of a physical unit. NVIDIA’s workstation grade Quadro & TESLA cards can render video and process data at lightning speeds. By decentralizing the usage of its cards, NVIDIA has ensured optimal and future-proof utilization of its products.

Besides being an obvious financial asset, the adoption of virtualization grants a plethora of benefits to broadcasters both small and large.

Being unfettered from carry-along apparatus has given increased mobility to broadcasters. Growing network speeds and the advent of 5G means it is exponentially easier to set up pop-up stations and better, wider on-ground coverage. Having software-based computing power further allows creative freedom and experimentation. Launching new services over a broadcaster’s existing distribution network is a quicker, less cumbersome process.

Troubled organizations, those which pumped in significant resources into setting up equipment have found a lifeline in virtualization. Letting out leftover space on servers remotely or granting access to their specialized machinery through software-based virtual interfaces – these companies recover costs faster, some even generating profits.

Content creators have struggled to maintain a healthy distance between themselves and the infrastructure support in an organization. Media specialists have long bemoaned limited knowledge of equipment and technicalities prohibiting their creativity. Virtualization provides a seamless way for journalists to avoid the everyday altercations with physical machinery and divert their energies to creating content.

With many of the industry bigwigs already on-board and newcomers seeing the many advantages of a virtual station, embracing a virtual future is soon to become an industry norm.

What will 2018 hold for media broadcasters?

What will 2018 hold for media broadcasters?

2018 will see broadcasters streamline their content, technology, and operations for a new segment of customers who consume content on-demand. Driven by the changing content consumption, we foresee media organizations looking at following:

Dawn of the OTT Era

Industry reports reveal that an average Indian consumes 8.5 hours of video content every month on Facebook and YouTube, which accounts for 47 percent and 42 percent of market share. Add the popularity of Over the Top (OTT) platforms like Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Jio TV, and VOOT to that, and you’d realize that the way Indians consume digital content has changed over the years.

In India, the popularity can be attributed to access to faster and cheaper internet, affordable smartphones, and the wide range of content on offer. With over 460 million internet users, India is the second largest online market[1] whose smartphone penetration rate is expected to reach more than 28 percent by 2018.

While some broadcasters have already launched their platform like Ozee, others will pick this trend in 2018 and look at launching their platforms. Some may also look to optimize and produce their content on commercially successful OTT operators. Broadcasters will be seen investing in tools and technology to prepare their content and distribute it to CDNs.

Solving the Content Conundrum

OTT has changed the way content is created and consumed. As viewers consume content anytime, anywhere, and on any device, the demand for short-form, high quality ‘snackable’ content has been on the rise. Citizen journalism is gaining momentum, with viewers recording events and posting live on social media for the global audience.

Original, consistent, and addictive content is on demand. With players like Apple planning to invest over $1 billion in original content and Facebook spending a chunk of its marketing budget on content, fresh content production depending on current affairs, mood, and preference of the viewers is on the rise.

However, creating fresh consumable content is only one side of the story. To retain subscribers and provide a shared experience across devices, OTT providers also need to recreate the legacy content with proper archiving, metadata and tagging, and digitization. For this, broadcasters will need to dig into their archives to sort, organize, digitize, restore and optimize legacy content to enable easy search, access, and distribution of content across channels.

Embracing Virtualization

Newer digital broadcast avenues like OTT are creating pressure on traditional broadcasters to lower their Broadcast Operations and Engineering (BO&E) budgets. A survey by Devoncroft reveals that more than 40% M&E vendors have products that operate in a virtualized environment. While it is debatable if ‘virtualization’ refers to only IT infrastructure or the entire content supply chain, the fact is – new, small, and medium-sized broadcasters are gradually migrating their infrastructure to cloud-based solutions.

Moving to IP comes with the benefits of using a standardized connectivity and infrastructure to transport videos from locations to the central facilities and on to distribution. Therefore, broadcasters will continue digital transformation keeping content at the center of business to achieve faster time-to-market, scalability, and agility at a lower TCO.

Enhanced User Experience with 4K, HD Formats

A 2016-report by Chrome Data Analytics and Media[2] reveals that 8.34 million households in India have HD televisions, of which 89 percent have DTH HD connection and 11 percent have digital cable HD connection. However, only 9 percent or 91 channels out of 857 permitted private satellite television stations and more than 190 government channels in India are High Definitions (HD).

With the market share of OLEDs, 3D and 4K television increasing every day, viewers often forget to ask – does India have enough 4K and 3D channels? Wikipedia lists only five 4K channels and one 3D channel.

To address the change in viewership, media organizations will continue to upgrade their technical infrastructure to broadcast in HD or beyond (4K). With 2019 General Elections in sight, it is expected that news broadcasters will upgrade their technology, investing in workflows and solutions for presentation and analysis of election results in high definition.

To summarize, 2018 and 2019 will be the year of digital transformation and adoption of technology focusing on improving the viewer experience.

Top six trends that are shaping the future of television

Top six trends that are shaping the future of television

We don’t know how, when and why Television has always been called an Idiot Box world over. On the contrary, it is a smart device which has encapsulated our attention unabashedly over the longest period of time since its inception and the first television service by British Broadcasting Corporation in 1936. Today, even after 80 years, it rules our heart and is still a major source of entertainment and global information.

The television industry in the last few decades has grown extensively and the wave continues. Whether in terms of technology, state-of-the-art looks or content, many key players in a highly competitive market keep up with the pace of development. Advancements in terms of knowledge, exposure, urbanization, increased buying power and a continuous shift in user preferences keep the innovators on their toes to think beyond the edge.

In terms of technology, the end users might think that now the peak has arrived, and there is nothing more that innovators can come up with. But we also agree with the mystic power of human brain who, if one can anticipate the current trends, is surely preparing for something which will take television technology to an altogether another level of viewing.

Some of the trends that are shaping the future of Television include:

  1. Holographic TV

BBC has always been a front-runner as far as anything concerned with TV goes. It has trialed for a technology and content wherein a fairly big size TV is laid flat and simple, old Victorian theatre techniques are used to create 3D images which seem to float in the air.1

Though a Holographic TV is still at its nascent stage the initiation is applaudable.

  1. Data Analytics

The revolution, “Big Data Analytics” aids smart viewership. Early adopters like Netflix have used it extensively to create a niche and specialize in the domain as creative as content production. We hope to see it being widely adopted, more hands-on to optimize produced or acquired content. The steps are simple; behavioral data is collected from various sources, classified and judged to help identify end-user preferences.

  1. Virtual Reality

In terms of technology, Virtual Reality predictably is the next big thing which aims at completely revolutionizing the concept of TV watching. It’s an ever-growing popular culture wherein a consumer after wearing a VR headset can explore virtual, computer-generated worlds. It replicates an environment and simulates user’s real-time presence and allows full interaction. VR, when integrated with TV shows can help a user be a part of that show. Looks a bit far-fetched at the moment, but not too far also. In fact, Director Steven Soderbergh’s new ambitious project Mosaic, an interactive narrative app is a perfect example of this concoction. It is due to release soon where the audience becomes a part of the narration and gets the leverage to decide how the story should unfold. It’s a new way of storytelling and irrespective of its response and real-time success paves way for more such experiments.2

  1. Virtualization

Virtualization creates an ecosystem where independent services can share a common platform. It will surely take some time to realize this completely but cloud-based broadcasting wherein the content is put on public clouds for smooth broadcasting and viewing experience, is fast catching up. In fact, coming years will see major investments in cloud solutions. It does away with huge hardware investments and their maintenance and broadcasters benefit in terms of scalability and high levels of efficiency. They are extremely cost-effective with reduced turnaround time and helps manage viewer demands to a large extent. Predictably, a cloud utility model is surely going to turn Broadcasters into Orchestrators whose job would be to deliver aggregated content. The transition is already on its way. Key players like BBC, Disney/ABC Television have started making the shift as the world moves towards Virtualization. 3

  1. Immersive and Interactive Experience-Augmented Reality

Technologists have always aimed for maximum consumer participation. Tools are being developed to involve our sensory powers to blur the line between the real and digital world thereby making the viewer part of the content. A mid-world is created where 3D and 4D images give the brain a real-time perception and the user feels more involved. 3D audio effects surround sound helps manipulate a sound one hears and provides a more real-time effect. One can easily confuse this with Virtual Reality but Augmented Reality deals more with the real world. It enhances the experience by adding drama to it. And Broadcasters are making hands-on use of it by developing more interactive and engaging shows with maximum audience participation.

Plans to introduce Interactive Advertising by Channel 4 on British TV is one step forward to it where watchers would enjoy the liberty to choose different ads, watch different content or even buy the products instantly.4

  1. Humanoids, AI comes to Television Broadcasting

Robots have always fascinated us since time immemorial. Recently, a real-time robot or a Humanoid, Sophia surfaced on BBC television featuring as a spokesperson on BBC’s Earth TV. It is made of frubber (flesh rubber) and is highly sophisticated. It has a human face and also emulates real-time human emotions. It is not functioning in artificial intelligence. Rather it has scripted answers. One can only anticipate the whole experience of television watching in the future with more such humanoid interactions. 5

On the Whole

Above are some of the trends observed that are going to shape the future of TV. And it doesn’t stop here. The list is ever growing. Technologists and innovators are constantly aiming for utmost consumer participation and keep them more involved and engaged. Broadcasters are trying really hard to absorb new technologies and amalgamating them to give their audiences different forms of experiences thereby entertaining them. The game is actually to play with the human mind and show them something which ups their curiosity level. It is a new age fairy tale times which is illusionary and beautiful and forces one to be a part of those moments.